Age-Friendly Eagle County, Colorado, Responds to COVID-19
A look at how the county (home to the towns of Avon, Red Cliff and Vail, among others) is serving and protecting its older residents
Located in the northwestern quadrant of the state, Eagle County, Colorado, is home to about 55,000 people, 17 percent of whom are age 60 or older. In 2014, residents of Eagle County had a life expectancy from birth of 86 years, the third longest in the United States.
The county joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2017. The region's age-friendly effort is called the Eagle County Aging Well Initiative.
- Carly Rietmann, Healthy Aging Manager, Eagle County Public Health and Environment, explains how the community is helping its older residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Information provided to AARP on April 29, 2020)
“The primary concerns we had for our older adult population was, first and foremost, connecting them to updated, accurate information about the outbreak. Beyond that, we focused on food security and access to services and programs that help residents stay healthy, comfortable and engaged while at home. For example, when our senior program closed and moved to a limited, modified service model, we had to ensure that our seniors would receive the same level of services as before.”
"We’ve been sharing information through traditional media and social media, including new platforms created specifically in response to COVID-19. For instance, the Eagle County commissioners created a Facebook page called One Valley Voice. They post articles, information, interviews and videos. The page supplements the Eagle County Aging Well Facebook page where we post anything and everything to help older adults stay updated, entertained and engaged. Our emergency operations center also updates its website — ECEmergency.org — with real time case information, testing guidelines, mental health resources and more.
“Before we had access to robust testing, we created a COVID-19 community monitoring dashboard to act as a one-stop shop where the community could see the county’s current case count, number of individuals tested, as well as a place for people to report symptoms. We call this part our "citizen epidemiologist" tool. Since responses from community members can be graphed by town, age group and onset date of symptoms, residents can more easily track how COVID-19 has spread locally. This dashboard has been modeled and used across Colorado and the nation.
The Focus Areas
Accurate and Accessible Information
“Local newspapers have been very important to sharing information as well. When the town of Vail heard that its older residents were feeling out of the loop, we partnered with the local government to create an informational postcard specifically tailored to older adults’ needs and questions. The postcard (pictured above) includes information about food access programs — such as volunteer help with grocery shopping — local pharmacies and important contact information for resources in Eagle County and the state.
“Lastly, we created a Transition Trail Map (shown in the box above) to help the community understand the phased approach we’re taking to slowly open back up. This gives businesses guidance about when and how to operate and acts as a guiding document as we move into the next phase of our response. The map uses the symbols from ski run ratings to describe the steps as Beginner, Intermediate and Expert, which is apropros for our community. It explains the activities that are acceptable in each phase, including how things like childcare, restaurants, retail and offices can operate.
“To support social distancing, beginning the week of March 16 we moved our senior center meal services to home delivery or self-pickup. We continue to offer the typical two hot meals per week prepared by our senior center chef and we've been able to add frozen entrees, which are prepared by a local caterer, with support from additional emergency funds from the state. This increased our supply to four meals per week for all participants.
“We’ll likely continue operating our meal program in this way for several months until we can return to our normal dining room gatherings. In addition, we partnered with the school districts to extend the grab-and-go lunch programs for students and families to anyone in the county age 60 or older. The food service directors were more than happy to partner and it opened another avenue for older adults to access food Monday through Friday.
Alpine Area Agency on Aging
Local municipalities, small business owners, community volunteers and senior programs from neighboring counties
“Finally, we modified other regular programming to follow social distancing requirements while still meeting the needs of residents. For example, we’ve been running our senior transportation bus on a modified schedule to help folks access the senior shopping hours and post office once a week. At one of our senior centers, before the onset of COVID, we had a very robust exercise program with an average of 50 or more people at each class. After discovering the majority of those participants had access to a computer or smartphone, and that they had the desire to meet up virtually for their classes, we set up the classes live online via Google Hangouts."
The Results, Thus Far
“Our first goal of sharing up to date information was greatly supported by the local newspapers, which have done a fabulous job of working closely with the county to report out current information on a daily basis.
“The virtual exercise classes have been very successful and the participants have been thrilled with the physical activity and social stimulation the classes provide.
“We received a flood of offers from community members interested in helping older adults during this time. Since many of our regular volunteers are themselves 65 or older, it’s been so helpful to get younger community residents involved without having to risk the health and safety of our older volunteers.
"So far we’ve used volunteers for a variety of jobs to help make the lives of older adults easier. These jobs include grocery shopping and deliveries, medication pickup, post office and mailbox checking and, just recently, reinstating our medical transportation volunteer driver program. We’ve also had community members bring basic-need items to our senior centers for older people to take as needed so they don’t have to go to the grocery stores. We’ve really seen our community step up to the plate to help our older adults during this time."
“Eagle County is being looked at as a model for our state not only because we were one of the 'first of the firsts' to tackle this, but also because of the innovative way we’ve brought the community with us on the journey. Our Safer at Home guidelines for our older population have been replicated and used as a template for other counties in the state.
"We’ve received an abundance of great feedback for the way we have served older adults during this time. As the weeks and months go on, our goal is to keep brainstorming about how we can continue to create meaningful, modified social experiences for the older adults of Eagle County.”
Research by Shosanna Preuss | Article published May 2020
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